By ASHLEY BROWN, CONOR FINNEGAN and JACK ARNHOLZ, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there are “enormous” signs that the novel coronavirus outbreak originated in a biomedical laboratory in Wuhan, China — the city where cases first exploded.
“I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan,” Pompeo said on ABC’s This Week Sunday.
“Do you think they intentionally released that virus, or it was an accident in the lab?” Co-Anchor Martha Raddatz pressed.
“I can’t answer your question about that,” he said, “because the Chinese Communist Party has refused to cooperate with world health experts.”
The White House last week ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to look into whether China concealed information early on about the novel coronavirus, two administration officials told ABC News last week.
Pompeo on Sunday agreed the virus was not manmade.
A recent press release from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) that said, “The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified.”
Pompeo said that he has “no reason to disbelieve” the intelligence community, adding, “I’ve seen their analysis. I’ve seen the summary that you saw that was released publicly. I have no reason to doubt that that is accurate.”
The ODNI statement said the intelligence community was investigating whether the outbreak was the result of a lab accident.
The announcement that the ODNI is investigating a possible lab accident as the source of the pandemic is a boost for the unproven theory that President Donald Trump, Pompeo and many senior U.S. officials have pushed for weeks now, even as epidemiological experts say its likelihood is rare.
Several public health and epidemiological experts have told ABC News it is “vastly more likely” that the first infection — what’s called “zoonotic spillover” — occurred in the wild, given the “huge barriers between people and viruses in the laboratory setting,” according to Dr. Christine Johnson, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Predict project and a professor at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Pompeo has been central to the administration’s pushback against the Chinese government for weeks, earning him vitriol from Chinese state media, which called him an “enemy of mankind” last week.
“China behaved like authoritarian regimes do, attempted to conceal and hide and confuse,” Pompeo said.
Xinhua, China’s state-run news, reported late Saturday that there are neither rational nor legal grounds for U.S. politicians’ accusations regarding China’s response, “it is only an absurd claim featuring typical U.S. bullying.”
“Like the rest of the world, China is a victim of the pandemic, not an accomplice with the virus,” the report said.
China said they have done what “should be and needs to be done” in the face of a pandemic.
A report from the Department of Homeland Security claims that “the Chinese government intentionally concealed the severity of COVID-19 from the international community in early January while it stockpiled medical supplies by both increasing imports and decreasing exports.”
“China likely cut its exports of medical supplies prior to its January WHO notification that COVID-19 is a contagion,” according to the report, which was shared with law enforcement and government agencies on Friday.
Pompeo also spoke to reports Sunday about North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who appeared to surface in new images on Friday after a three-week absence from the public eye.
“We’ve seen the same images from yesterday that the world saw. It looks like Chairman Kim is alive and well. Regardless of any of that our mission has remained the same. To convince the North Koreans to give up their nuclear weapons,” Pompeo said.
Talks to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons program have been all but dead for months and Kim has announced his intention to pursue new nuclear and missile testing. Working-level negotiators last met in October, but neither side has been willing to move first, leaving them deadlocked.
In the meantime, North Korea continues to advance its nuclear weapons program. But Trump continues to tout his relationship with Kim and point to a lack of long-range missile testing as signs of a successful policy.
Amid speculation about Kim’s health, Trump was among those pouring cold water on the apparent rumors of his being in “grave condition,” telling reporters he didn’t want to share what information he had and that he simply wished him well.
“We don’t know why he chose to leave at that moment. We know there are other extended periods of time which Chairman Kim’s been out of public view as well so it’s not unprecedented,” Pompeo added.
The leader was shown in photos and videos distributed by North Korean media cutting the ribbon at the opening ceremony of a new fertilizer plant.
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